Christian disappearances in Middle East to get spotlight at DC conference

(Raymond Ibrahim)The historic St. Mark Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt came under attack after the funeral of Coptic Christians killed by Islamic terrorists. Raymond Ibrahim, the author of a new book on Christian persecution in the Islamic world, says the attack on one of Christianity's most revered shrines was deliberate. He says it was meant to be a symbolic act of war on Christianity.

Washington D.C. is to host the Third International Conference on Religious Freedom from Dec. 4-6 titled, "Persecution of Christians in the Holy Lands and the Middle East: Consequences and Solutions."

The conference is sponsored by the Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Previous conferences were held in Brussels and Berlin.

The Order of St. Andrew said it is responding to Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's May 2014 common declaration expressing "profound concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East."

While about 30 percent of the world's population identifies as Christian, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination are directed at Christians say the conference organizers.

"Christianity is being wiped out from the very lands in which it was born 2,000 years ago," said Dr. Anthony Limberakis, National Commander for the Order of St. Andrew. "The conference aims to shed light on this crisis confronting Christians in the Middle East."

Organizers cite Open Doors, the California-based non-profit that has tracked Christian persecution for the past 25 years, pointing out that millions of Christians face interrogation, arrest, torture, and/or death because of their religious convictions and cultural or ethnic identification.

The U.S. State Department reports that Christians face persecution in more than 60 countries with Pew Research noting that between 2007 and 2014, Christians have been targeted for harassment in more countries than any other religious group.

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople expressed "profound concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East" during their May 2014 meeting in Jerusalem.

The conference sessions include the "History of the Christian Church" focusing on the disappearance of Christians from Christianity's birthplace, "Persecution of Christians and Possible Solutions," "Freedoms of Religion and the Press," and "Sacred Sites and Property Rights."

The meeting will bring together top government officials, human rights activists, academics, and religious leaders.

Among the participants will be Archbishop Demetrios of America, Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, Johny Messo, President of the World Council of Arameans (Syriacs), Vice Chair Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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